By Sam Rkaina, Local Goverment Reporter / email@example.com
BRISTOL City Council will have to borrow £37 million to help pay for the bendy bus schemes.
It is understood the huge loan will take a quarter of a century to pay off. The real cost of the city’s bus rapid transit schemes could also be far higher than previously thought because of the interest on that loan.
The authority plans on borrowing £37 million from the government’s Public Works Loans Board to help fund the bus routes, but with interest over
25 years it will have to pay back £65 million.
When added to the £197 million project costs, that means the real bendy bus bill is now around £225 million.
It has also emerged that the bus routes won’t stop at the city’s main bus station.
The three routes are the £50 million Ashton Vale-to-Temple Meads scheme; the £102 million north fringe-to-Hengrove package and the £45 million south Bristol link.
The first two are connected by a loop that runs around the city centre. But the latest maps for the loop show the nearest stops to the Marlborough Street bus station are on Bond Street just north of the Bearpit roundabout or Lewins Mead opposite the Rupert Street multi-storey car park.
Both are several minutes walk away, and the Bond Street stop in particular is either reached via the Bearpit subway, which some consider unsightly, or several busy crossing points.
Bristol City Council says it has to work with what it’s got, and points out that cities with larger bus stations have stops that are several minutes walk away.
The bus station is the first port of call for many people arriving in the city, either on local bus routes or National Express coaches from across the country.
It means that anyone who turns up at the station won’t be able to just hop on or off a rapid transit bus connection.
This follows the revelation last month that the Ashton Vale to Temple Meads route won’t actually stop at Temple Meads railway station either.
The council is proposing to pay off the £37 million loan by one of two controversial charges – either a tax on companies that provide employee parking, or a hike in business rates.
The authority rejected a number of other funding options that could have been even less popular – including a congestion charge and a two per cent increase in council tax.
Another option was to redirect money spent on other transport areas such as road safety and cycling schemes.
The authority is having to pay a much larger contribution towards the cost of the transport project after the coalition government changed the goal posts earlier this year.
It’s left the council with a bigger bill than planned if it wants any funding at all from the Department for Transport and no easy way of paying it.
The council cabinet is due to decide whether it will go with the parking charge or business rates increase at its next meeting on Thursday. (Sept 1) If it is adopted, the parking levy would not be introduced until 2015.
Council leader Barbara Janke said: “It is vital for the economy of the city and to secure jobs in the future that we put in place a lasting, long-term transport plan.
“This is why our bid to government for Bus Rapid Transit funding is so important.
“On September 1 the cabinet will therefore consider the fairest options to fund our contribution to the project and to ensure the bid to government is as strong as possible.”
The city council is then due to submit the final funding bids for three branches of the bendy bus system the following Friday.
The authority has argued that these schemes are “the only game in town” and that if the people don’t get behind them there will be no more available funding for major transport projects until 2015.
On the lack of a bus station stop, council spokeswoman Kate Hartas told the Post that the nearest alternatives were “all within two minutes walk”.
She said: “Few transport systems achieve the ideal boarding point at every significant destination, and the council is satisfied that the best solution possible has been found.
“It is standard practice for councils to borrow to fund this type of investment. It is the only realistic way for any city to contribute to much-needed, long-term major projects which are far beyond any annual budget.”